Introducing TED to FYC

Today we started the Exploratory Essay, which is a pre-research project assignment, where students choose a topic that they are interested in and want to learn more about. They are required to find at least 3 sources, to write about what the sources say, and to reflect on how the information in those sources impacted their understanding of the subject. Did they learn something that conflicted with what they knew? What did they do with that? How did they decide whether to accept it or to reject it? How did they incorporate the new knowledge into their understanding of the world?

It’s a potentially revolutionary assignment as the students are tasked with watching themselves learn. Unfortunately it can also be very rote. Even the routine, though, offers opportunities for exponential growth.

I read this and learned this; it didn’t effect me because I think that is stupid.
I read this and learned this; it changed how I think about x because now I understand why someone would think y about x when I’ve always thought z.
I read this and learned this; now I think this instead.

When I told the students that they could use different types of texts, they were at a loss to understand what I meant. What could they use? They have been taught to use books and journals (though most at our university are online now); they are personally and intimately experienced with diving into the shallows of the internet. When I asked, none of them, not a single one, knew what TED talks were.

TED, I told them, is all about innovators–ideas worth spreading. The speakers are all the top, the forerunners of their fields, be that field physics or music or psychology. They are not, necessarily, skilled speakers, but have created or learned something exceptional. The original TED, I explained, has people paying $10,000 per seat, to sit in the room and listen to what will become free on the internet. (I have since found that this price is not accurate for 2014, being $2500 too high. I wonder where I heard it.) BUT, I told my students, just paying the cost is not sufficient to get a seat at TED. In addition to being willing and able to pay the high price, people who want to go to TED must also fill out an application, writing essays. Those essays determine who gets seats at TED.

My students were astounded to discover that essays might be necessary after college. They also couldn’t believe people would voluntarily write essays (six of them it turns out) in addition to paying thousands of dollars to sit in a room and listen to someone.

Because they had never heard of TED, I decided to share my favorite TED talk with them. It’s not about writing. It’s about creativity and art and poverty and beauty. It’s “How I Became 100 Artists” by Shea Hembrey.

Because I enjoyed once more watching Shea Hembrey, who “draws sticks real good,” when I came home this evening, I looked up fashion on TED and found not fashion but Objects of Desire, 12 different TED talks on things related to art.

One of the points of connection is the use of story in the presentations. Some are overtly about the stories of art and some are stories of other things impacting art.

I introduced TED talks to my composition course today and re-introduced them to myself as well.

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